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Bella English

At the MFA, the art of attraction

‘The single most common mistake people make is becoming an interviewer,’ advised dating coach Jason Lane. ‘The single most common mistake people make is becoming an interviewer,’ advised dating coach Jason Lane.
By Bella English
Globe Columnist / December 4, 2011
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I recently went with a group of friends to First Friday, a mixer at the Museum of Fine Arts held on - duh - the first Friday of each month. As these things go, it seemed a tame affair: a sea of bodies ambling along in the cavernous Koch Gallery, home of European Renaissance art.

There, under the watchful eyes of grim-looking priests and monks staring out of their canvas prisons, a huge mural of dogs tearing each other apart, and Jesus on the cross, men and women clutched their drinks and sized up one another. Perhaps a better venue for the mixer would have been the nearby “Degas and the Nude’’ exhibition.

There were six of us gals, from Milton and Quincy, ranging in age from the 24-year-old daughter of a friend to us middle-aged moms.

A couple of us are married and just along for the theater. I was there as a lookout for a friend who had described a prior First Friday as “a good time, but I am not dancing with Humpty Dumpty again.’’

In a sea of tasteful, understated blacks, browns, and beiges, one guy stood out. Sweater Man was resplendent in a neon-striped sweater of multiple hues. I could not take my eyes off him. He nearly lit up the room.

Note to guy wearing dad jeans and a baseball cap, with a sweater and a jacket tied around your waist: Don’t.

But he wasn’t as bad as the man who was walking around with jumbo-sized cotton balls sticking out of his ears. The better to tune you out, my dear?

My friend Mary - the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed - saw one man and whispered: “He’s a regular. I met him last time. He has absolutely horrible breath.’’

The women at the mixer were dressed for the occasion, in nice pants or mini-skirts. Those in (designer) jeans wore dressy tops. Naturally, I saw some geezers trying to chat up young women. One portly gentleman sporting a salt-and-pepper beard came up to our group and went straight for the 24-year-old who was 30 years his junior.

Here’s a tip for young women who are either too polite or too intimidated to just bolt when an old guy hits on her. Use Mom as an excuse, as in, “Excuse me, sir, I told my mother I’d call and check in with her.’’ Don’t forget the “sir.’’

One of my friends, Susan, met a nice guy, a graduate student from India, and enjoyed their conversation. But Susan had been in a recent class taught by a dating coach, so she knew what to do, and what not to do.

“There are conversation patterns to avoid,’’ she told us on the way over. “The monopolizer, the interrupter, the conversation killer . . . ’’

I later called Jason Lane, said coach, and asked him for some advice. “The single most common mistake people make is becoming an interviewer,’’ said Lane, who is 35. “You want to stay away from asking too many questions.’’ I tried not to take that comment personally.

“Another big, big, big one, one of the worst personality traits to avoid, is the adviser,’’ said Lane. “The person who wants to solve everyone else’s problems. What feels better is to empathize. Say something like, ‘That must be frustrating. How are you handling it?’ ’’

Though his classes include men and women, Lane says he prefers teaching women, who “do the homework, who want to get better. Guys use excuses.’’ Still, he understands that it’s tougher for men, who are expected to be the ones to approach women and start the conversation.

That wasn’t our problem at the MFA. Mary noticed a couple of guys standing alone and suggested we chat with them. One we nicknamed Fabio because of the beautiful mane of hair that he seemed fond of. He told Mary this was his first visit to First Friday.

But later, a museum employee who has been on duty for lots of First Fridays, told us that Fabio was a regular. “Cut him loose!’’ we were told. “Drop him like a hat! I’ve seen him here before, peacocking.’’

I was curious as to how the men in the room felt about the women. Were they having fun? I asked a middle-age attorney if he had met anyone. He had, he said; a nurse. But he cut the conversation with her short: “I have a feeling she assisted with my colonoscopy.’’ I reminded him that she probably did not see his face.

The biggest drama I witnessed had to do with food. There was a tapas table with a caterer selling mini-stuffed grape leaves, spinach pies, and the like. While the food-seller was ringing someone up, a well-dressed woman walked by, snatched a baklava, then quickly melted into the crowd. I had to admire her chutzpah.

I don’t know how many numbers were exchanged among the participants, but my friends and I had a great time. I overheard a few tired lines: the time-honored, “You look familiar. Have we met before?’’ and “I never go to these things, but my friend insisted.’’

Praise God, I did not hear, “You had me from hello.’’

Lane told me that the top skill for women to develop when communicating with a guy is appreciation. “There is a drought of appreciation in Boston,’’ he said. “We just don’t get appreciated for our character anymore.’’

But this was something I had recently done. After First Friday, I went right home and told my husband just how much I appreciated him.

Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at

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